This Into the Badlands review contains spoilers.
Into the Badlands Season 2 Episode 2
It’s official: I’m swept away by Into the Badlands.
It took one (tiny) season and a fairly solid season premiere to convince me this is a series that can entertain while engaging its audience on multiple levels. No longer am I ambivalent toward its characters or their plights: I know I care about what happens to them now. I’m immersed in the world of the show in a way that I wasn’t during its trial-run last year. The introductions are over, and we’re getting to know one another on a personal level.
That’s what I love about second seasons of television shows. First seasons can be awkward in their inherent trial-and-error-iness. “Are we going to get renewed? Are people going to get what we’re doing?” Sophomore years are almost always more confident and crystallized because the creators are given the means to make their visions come to life the way they intended, sometimes even better.
That’s certainly the case with Into the Badlands, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Why? Because I like old school kung-fu movies. I grew up in the 1990s, an era in which vague martial arts undertones were found in just about everything. Also, I have a thing for post-apocalyptic stuff. And I was pretty good at playing Mortal Kombat 3.
Jeez, I’ve brought up the Mortal Kombat franchise…how many times in my reviews for this series? I’ll let it go already. That’s my last reference, I promise. I mean it in the most flattering of ways each time, though. I really do. (Mostly.)
“Force of Eagle’s Claw” takes what “Tiger Pushes Mountain” established (perhaps slapdashedly) and takes off with it. Sunny and Baije finally break out of the Bordo mines and see what lies beyond the thunderdome – a giant barrier that prevents people from getting, y’know, into the Badlands. This happens in the episode’s final moments, and that’s the only real plot point of consequence to bring up for these two. Well, besides having a ridiculously entertaining brawl with Mouse, the big skull crushing executioner dude who finishes off unproductive miners with both Fatalities and Brutalities. (D’oh! I just can’t help myself.)
It’s funny how Sunny is being marketed to us as the straight man in a kung-fu buddy cop movie that George Miller might have directed if he was Roger Corman. I think I like it. I’m not quite sure yet. I agree with two things I imagine the focus groups probably brought up about this series when it was renewed: it needed comic relief because it took itself too seriously, and that Sunny needed a sounding board to express his thoughts. Okay, fine. They probably didn’t bring up the latter, but the former is a given. Nick Frost (Baije) brings a Simon Pegg meets Rebel Wilson sense of dry humor to the proceedings that doesn’t take away from the show’s somber nature. And it’s growing on me. I won’t resist this change and hold off on labeling it an improvement or a misstep just yet. For now, their dynamic is amusing and freshens things up a bit. So I’ll allow it.
Meanwhile, M.K. (not that M.K., I swear) is continuing his personal quest of enlightenment under the tutelage of The Master. Cliches abound here but the delivery is what matters, and I have to admit experiencing a shell of catharsis during these sequences. I’m a sucker for halls of mirrors and atmospheric set pieces like that, so it’s nice to see that Into the Badlands has enough budget to have them as backdrops now. The paper crane made out of peyote thing was neat, too. Definitely gotta get me one of those. I’ve got a medical card, if that helps.
Imaginative touches aside, M.K.’s interactions with The Master serve a clear purpose narratively speaking, and that is to explore the dark side of whatever force he’s using. She tells him it’s the one in control of his powers, not him. During his vision quest, he loses a battle with his shadow self after we get flashes of that one thing happened on that ship last year. (Hint: he lost control and killed everyone on it.)
If there haven’t been any comparisons between Into the Badlands and Game of Thrones yet, there will be after “Force of Eagle’s Claw”. Remember Baron Quinn’s wife Lydia? AKA Ryder’s mom? AKA Jade’s competition and mentor? AKA Lance Henriksen’s daughter? Well, we catch up with her here at Lance’s timeshare – er, ‘scuse me, “Pentrith’s Totemist commune”… wow. That’s from the official website, too. Yeah. That’s arcane AF.
Anyway, we notice how much she’s grown spiritually since we last saw her fleeing the madness of King Beard’s bearded kingdom while she oversees a Totemist communist wedding. I’ve heard those can get wild, and this one definitely does when a couple nomads show up and recreate the Red Wedding with an extra dose of red.
When Lydia saves everyone by standing up and killing them herself, Penrith is outraged. In Totemist communist Russia, gods kill you. You’re not supposed to get in their way. So basically all of those good vibes she accumulated during the past year were thrown out in about five minutes or less. Man, Lance is so hard to please sometimes. Sigh.
This tragedy forces Lydia to confront Ryder and it turns into a machination party. I love those! Oh, there’s also a machination party going on over at The Widow’s with Tilda and Waldo. Yay! (At last, we’ve found ‘im!) In short, Ryder’s trying to arrange a meeting with the Barons and Widow and Waldo want to go and throw a bunch of shade and maybe kill them all at the same time. You know how Widow and Waldo can be. Don’t you love the names of these characters? So fun to say.
Meanwhile, Baron Quinn is going insane because he survived dying and he has christened Veil’s baby as Henry. And he is actually a more likeable villain now. He has a nifty evil lair that is legitimately post-apocalyptic, not some run down plantation. And also his beard is more well groomed. Not sure how that works.
Next episode, please!